How do you spice up a conference of family integrated churches? Ask a question about Reformed Rap. That’s exactly what happened at The Worship of God Conference from the NCFIC (National Center for Family Integrated Churches). This issue has been significantly batted around the blogosphere since the video posted below went viral over the Thanksgiving break.
As a pastor I now feel that I should address it. It has come to the threshold of our church family. As a church we are supportive of many of the priorities of the Family-Integrated Church movement (family shepherding, priority of the Word of God, priority of the local church, etc). At the same time many of our members (including pastors) regularly bob their heads to Reformed Rap.
So, what happened? It is like Uncle Integrated took a swipe at Cousin Hip-Hop over Thanksgiving Dinner. What do we do? Like any dysfunctional (sinful) family we have to take a step back and respond in love.
The strongest statement from the panel was made by Geoff Botkin who said that those who were driving Christian Rap were “disobedient cowards.” He later issued a statement that seemed to be intended as an apology. The overall tone of the panel was negative towards hip-hop and in some cases, like above, were vehemently opposed to it. Pass the sweet potatoes Uncle Geoff!
I believe these men at the NCFIC love Jesus. I also believe that the guys that put out solid Reformed Hip Hop love Jesus. As a result, we have an issue that centers around preferences. Specifically, these preferences as to how we can express ourselves musically.
This leads me to my chief issue with their comments. When a movement or a man becomes more narrow than the gospel then they are not serving the gospel. They are serving themselves. When preferences become principles then we have lost something.
How do we get there? The age-old problem of elevating created things to a place of prominence. We see this in Romans 1 (footnote: for more on this see Peter Jones’ books). This issue is not limited to Pagans however. Professing Christians fall into this trap as well. In his letter to Timothy Paul reminds the young pastor to point out the danger of making abstention from food and drink a binding issue for Christians (1 Tim. 4:1-8). In Colossians we read of the problem of elevating the observance of days and the abstention from foods to a place of prominence (Col. 2:16-23). We see the same problem isolated in Galatians as Paul talks about the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world…” (Gal. 4:9).
In each of these cases there is an allusion to or an explicit denunciation of elementary principles. The word translated “elementary principles” has to do with the basic elements or concepts. It’s a broad word. However, in the Colossians (2:8, 20) and Galatians (4:3,9) passages it is used to describe the basic principles of the world. In other words, the created things that people cling to in order to earn or keep God’s favor. Paul’s point, repeatedly, is that created things can neither condemn nor commend you to God.
Why is this? Because this is our Lord Jesus Christ’s job. It is his blood and righteousness that commends us to God.
This concept informs our understanding of Christian liberty and preferences. Why could the Apostle Paul flex between eating meat and drinking wine? He seems to pick it up and put it down without much personal angst (cf. 1 Cor. 9-10; Rom. 14-15). The reason, quite simply, is because he has liberty in Christ. This liberty is not expressed by rigidly maintaining our preferences but by powerfully setting them aside.
This is illustrated well by Dr Albert Mohler, who in an article earlier this week on this very issue, indicated that he himself has worked through these same arguments against using hip-hop as a medium of gospel-expression. He candidly says that he knows them well. He has thought through them:
As I said already, I have made many of the same arguments myself. In my head. Thankfully not in public. Am I holding back?
No, I allow myself those arguments in my head when I want to absolutize my preferences and satisfy myself in the righteousness and superiority of my own musical taste and theology. The problem for me is that my theology of music will not allow me to stay self-satisfied on the matter, and by God’s grace I have not made arguments out loud that would violate that theology.
In other words, it’s ok to think through these things in our heads, however, there must be something bigger than our own personal preferences. That something is a robust understanding of the gospel.
The gospel tells us that nothing created (including music) can commend us or condemn us before God. We have the freedom to have preferences but the obligation to not bind others with them by making them principles. When we do this we have fumbled the gospel, regardless of our good intentions. This is tricky and hard. It is a battle for me and all Christians everyday.
I truly believe that the NCFIC folks really want to promote holiness and gospel-transformation. However, they must see that elevating created things to a place of authority is actually a problem of worldliness. They become guilty of the very thing they are accusing the Reformed Rap scene of.